Everything about the Christian faith turns on the revelation that God took on human nature (flesh and blood, yes, and also will and mind). It is by this revelation that we have come to know the Holy Trinity, that we have come to know ourselves, and that we have come to know the world we live in. But it brings about much more than knowing, or at least potential knowing. It is by the incarnation of the Word of God that human nature is redeemed and restored.
That is why I love Christmas so much.
“Let this mind be in you,” St. Paul the apostle wrote to the Phillipian church, “which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”
Have you ever stolen anything? I remember my first theft. I was six years old and this one was (honest) unintentional. I was leaving school and went to the smoke shop across the street, picked up a candy bar, put it in my pocket, and idly browsed the shop to see what else was there. Whereupon, being me, I forgot about the candy bar, walked out the door, and set out for home.
Half way home I put my hand in my pocket, whereupon, being me, I panicked, felt the world collapsing into me, felt the breath of demons breathing on my back, and ran home as fast as my six year old legs could take me. When I got home I raced up the stairs like a thief (oh wait, bad simile), threw myself under my bed, ripped the wrapper off the candy bar and ate it before anybody could catch me with it.
It being my gateway crime, I remember this theft all too well (though not as well as I just described it). It’s funny what we do with things that we don’t think we deserve. In my case, I ate it as fast as I could. I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was a prodigal act. Other dispositions are less hasty. They build fortresses around their stolen goods so nobody can steal them back. They cling to them.
To a rather amazing degree, we all tend to act like our possessions are stolen goods.
St. Paul told us to have the mind of Christ instead. He was God the Son. But He didn’t consider equality with God an act of robbery. He didn’t have to consume it quickly and He didn’t have to cling to it or protect it. You might almost say that He was so secure in His status that He was careless about it. He took on Himself a new form: the form of a servant. He became so obedient in this new form that He obeyed to the point of death on a cross.
He thought nothing of it.
But how is it that we are supposed to have the mind of Christ? We aren’t God, so we would have to regard equality with God something stolen. It not being ours, we’d be desperately insecure about it. Then what does Paul mean? In what way should we have the mind of Christ? What should we not consider robbery? What should we hold loosely? And why?
The short answer is, “Everything.”
I hear a lot about God’s love in Christian circles, but I find that an awful lot of the references to His love are pretty abstract. More and more, people seem to be talking about a feeling God has for us that should make us feel warm all over. But when you talk about what God has promised us, it’s almost embarrassing. Because, frankly, He has promised us everything.
St. Paul discusses this quite a bit in I Corinthians. The Corinthian church is full of small-minded, childish Christians, which the apostle knows because they are envious, divisive, and prone to strife. These, he says, are the marks of immaturity. Later he points out that when we are children we think, speak, and understand like children, but when we become men it’s time to put away childish things.
The amazing thing is that St. Paul takes a very different approach than most people take in my experience. We are inclined to say, “He thinks to highly of himself; he needs to be brought down,” or “He has too much stuff. If he lost a bit he’d be better for it.” Maybe in a certain limited way this is correct. But it isn’t the approach the apostle takes.
At the end of the opening section, Paul says to the Corinthians, “all things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
This is important, because what he shows them over the next 13 chapters is that they make really bad decisions and they can’t judge rightly because they forget that.
For instance, in chapter 5 he tells them that in the Kingdom of Heaven they will judge angels. And yet, they are so foolish in this world that they take each other to the secular courts. In his exasperation he cries, “Why not rather be defrauded?”
That, my friends, is not worldly wisdom. Why would he say such a thing? How can it be better to be defrauded?
Because everything is already theirs. But of course if they don’t believe that, then they will bicker over the things they have rather like a gang of thieves might. If we’ve only got so much and if there is a great risk of losing it, it’s very hard to let it go. Paul says, “Let it go. It’s nothing. You already own everything.”
In the US we’ve enjoyed over a century of absurd prosperity, mostly because that was what we wanted most. Increasingly, the more we got, the more we worried about losing it. We were weakened by anxiety because we were driven by anxiety in the first place. We trusted in the deceitfulness of riches. Our anxieties led to foolish economic decisions.
Now it seems we may be headed for a more challenging time. Personally, I expect subtle forms of persecution and exclusion of Christians in the coming decades.
How will we handle it? Will we remember that in Christ and in His kingdom, we have, “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that does not fade way, reserved in heaven”? Will we receive our Father’s answer to St. Paul’s prayer that we will “know the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints”? Will we set our affections on “things above, where Christ is”?
We won’t if we dont’ believe “that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Step dwelling on your sins and inadequacies. Direct your attention to the promises of God in Christ Jesus. And remember that we remember the birth of the Divine Son of God even as we expect His return. Let us not be ashamed on that day when we see Him. Let us not have to confess that we imitated our first parents by worrying about what to eat and wear rather than trusting Him as we sought first His Kingdom and His righteousness.
It is all good. And it is all yours. There’s nothing left to rob and there’s nothing you need to fear losing. So have a cling-free and a very Happy Christ mass.